A different pathway for therapists too

As Lindsey has already posted, we are putting together some words to describe who we are and what we offer. We have already posted a rewriting of Carl Roger’s 19 Propositions, and our client ethos statement. This is what we on the supervision and admin teams here want to say to our therapists.

John Clapham

Palace Gate Counselling Service

‘Palace Gate Counselling Service – how our community of therapists works

We are a person-centred service. Not everyone here describes themselves this way, and not everyone had a person-centred training – we are a diverse community. We believe our community is enriched by our varied perspectives, beliefs and experiencing.

So how does ‘person-centred’ come in?

We seek therapists – and therapists come to us – who share some of what we see as core person-centred beliefs, values, ways of being and working. This core of ‘person-centredness’ is what we seek to describe in our client-facing ethos statement, and Lindsey’s reworking of Rogers’ 19 Propositions. It makes no sense in terms of ‘fit’ for therapists to come here who – for example – have a strong external locus, or favour medical model cognitive-based approaches.

So we offer our clients this person-centred way of being and working.  Yalom describes the task of therapist and client being to co-create a new therapy, a unique way of working helpful to a unique human being in a unique therapeutic relationship.

What we aim to do is bring similar qualities to how we run our community, and relate to each other – in supervision and out of it. We believe it incompatible with an in-depth understanding of ‘person-centredness’ to claim to offer this way of working to clients, within an organisation which is hierarchical, external locus and management-based, with ‘shoulds’, ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ enshrined in formal policies and procedures. So we don’t do that.

Of course we have processes and procedures arising from nearly 20 years’ experience of operating this service. The idea is that we retain flexibility around those – nothing is set in stone, and how we do things grows, shifts and changes. Our therapists have a lot of autonomy. We make many decisions on a moment/circumstance-specific basis – so we tend to have processes, not rules. We want our theory and practice to be shaped by our experiencing, not the other way around. As Rogers puts it:-

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me.”

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

We see supervision, whether group or 1:1, as a collaborative, peer-peer, person-centred exploration of each therapist’s process, and client work. At the centre is our/your commitment to client healing and growth (and the belief that what serves one human being, serves us all). We do not see our supervision process as hierarchical, or about telling you how to work, or identifying what is ‘wrong’ with your practice, or as ‘accountability’, or in terms of crime and punishment, nor is it ‘management’ (we have supervision and administration at PGCS, rather than management). None of those are person-centred concepts, and we don’t do it that way. We understand that these are all  ways of doing things, very much in favour in our society at present, and that some therapists want to work like that. Obviously there are plenty of like-minded organisations for them to choose in place of PGCS. Like the BACP Ethical Framework, we value client choice, and we offer something different both to our clients and to our therapists. That difference is extremely important to us.

As supervisors, we bring person-centred principles to our work. We want to say a bit about this:-

  • Our in-house supervision process is how we maintain contact with you and with our clients – and so the quality of the service we offer. In other words, it is ethically essential;
  • We ask everyone choosing to come here to commit to this process, and bring their PGCS client work to us. We recognise that many of you have other supervision arrangements in place outside PGCS. This is not an issue for us (so long as it’s ‘alongside’, not ‘instead of’). Our recent feedback exercise indicates you understand this;
  • We trust our clients to bring to therapy the material on which they need to work, and we trust your knowing of what you need to bring to supervision. We will not tell you what is ‘supervision’ and what is ‘therapy’ (although we may look with you at how you spend supervision time and what best serves you). You are what you take into sessions with clients. In our view, whatever serves your process will also serve your client work;
  • You are an autonomous adult and a practising therapist (even our newest placement student has already done a certificate course or equivalent, and usually at least a year’s diploma training). We will relate to you accordingly. We have a core value around self-responsibility, and we do not sign up to culturally prevalent attitudes that infantilize and disempower human beings, e.g. in the name of ‘risk management’ or ‘safety’ (be they therapists-in-training or clients);
  • We make sense of supervision in the same way that we make sense of therapy. Your supervisor brings to your work a variety of things, this includes extensive experience of client work, supervision and of this service, but also his/her unique perspective on the themes you discuss. This is offered in the service of your process – not as an external locus in place of your own internal one, nor as the ‘right’ way to see things. As supervisors, we seek to offer presence, the core conditions, and to welcome both supervisor and supervisee as we are in each moment. If we can do this, our experience tells us the rest looks after itself;
  •  The invitation at PGCS is for each therapist to approach supervision in this spirit – bringing presence, and your authentic experiencing of yourself (including your vulnerable, messy, unfinished, spiky, crunchy, ashamed, frightened bits). We will not judge you or punish you for this. Our concerns as supervisors have tended to arise not around the therapists who show up at supervision as themselves, but rather the ones who show a need to ‘present’ as ‘competent’ – i.e. our concerns  are around inauthenticity and incongruence;
  • We recognise that inauthenticity and incongruence arise in fear, and believe the core conditions are a more useful response than the culturally prevalent, broken model of fault and blame. Where we identify development needs, our intention is to come alongside and support you in meeting those needs, in ways we work out between us based on the circumstances. Very occasionally this can result in someone ceasing client work here for a while, or even in a recognition that this is not the right service for that person – but such outcomes are rare, and (recent conflict aside) the relevant decisions arise through a collaborative process between us;
  • Obviously, all of this involves trust, and a willingness to work with flexibility and complexity. That asks more of you and all of us than a simple rule-based way of seeing/doing. We acknowledge that it is highly counter-cultural. We understand people come to us (perhaps especially on placement) with cultural expectations they will be told what to do, and often a perceived need to conceal vulnerabilities, uncertainties, inabilities and present themselves as a ‘competent’ practitioner.  We invite you to lay this down, and engage in person-centred supervision without fear, or with as little fear as possible. We do our best to choose therapists we think will be most able to avail themselves of this invitation;
  • Our supervision process is about supporting you in (1) realizing yourself as a therapist – your own unique personal way of making sense of therapeutic process and working with your clients; (2) your learning edges, identifying and working with these, in service of you and your clients; (3) your self care (we agree with Brian Thorne that effective self care is the primary responsibility of the therapist – you will struggle to offer clients a way of being you do not first offer to yourself, and you will best support your clients if you are sufficiently resourced yourself); (4) sharing and developing experience, insights, resources, wisdom, ideas;
  • What we look for, value and seek to foster in our therapists above all else is captured in the BACP Ethical Framework, which outlines ‘moral qualities’ desirable in a therapist (such as integrity, courage, sincerity and wisdom) and states: ‘….it is fundamental that these personal qualities are deeply rooted in the person concerned and developed out of personal commitment rather than the requirement of an external authority‘. We want therapists who are up for making that personal commitment and – as messy, fallible human beings, always in process and always learning – living that through every day. We will stand alongside you in that process;
  • You and your supervisor are balancing responsibilities to your/our clients, responsibilities to the service, responsibilities to yourselves, responsibilities to each other. Sometimes these may conflict. Just as in weighing up an ethical question, we see the task as taking into account all the various relevant factors, and finding a way through. Sometimes, this process will include an overriding service requirement – for example, it is usually not possible for you to agree with a client that they come fortnightly, rather than weekly, because the ‘empty hours’ are too expensive for us to sustain on our self-funding model (and it’s in the wider interests of that client/all our clients that we continue to exist!). We do not see these service ‘no’s’ as incompatible with person-centred working – it’s more a question of defining boundaries, clear, congruent communication, and a commitment from supervisor and supervisee to work through the issues and consequences;
  • We recognise – as with client work – that the key element in effective supervision is the quality of the relationship between supervisor and supervisee. If the ‘fit’ does not feel right to you, raise it – with your supervisor or with another member of the supervision or admin teams. Our feedback exercise indicates people are getting what they need from our supervision process. But people can and do change supervisors, although historically this has tended to be because of diary clashes, rather than lack of ‘fit’!


It seems important to say something, especially as we are in the closing stages of a long-running and deeply unpleasant conflict with a small number of therapists who used to work here. Some of you have chosen to know about this, and some haven’t (if you joined a while after it kicked off, you may not know much about it). Many factors contributed to this situation. One issue is that the people concerned felt anger/distress, and chose – for weeks or months – not to disclose this to anyone on the supervision or administrative teams here. Instead they discussed it with each other, then took their issues outside the service, and began talking to third parties (some highly inappropriate), and acting to cause harm, omitting the intervening stage of raising it appropriately within PGCS.

In the wake of that, we have spent a lot of time reflecting on how we work, and checking out with all of you (for example, in supervision and through our recent ‘feedback’ exercise) what you think and how able you might feel to raise something bothering you. We have also looked at our selection process for therapists – an underlying reality here is there was a mismatch between who those involved in this conflict were as therapists on the one hand, and us as a person-centred service on the other. We have also looked at how we communicate, and made some changes (for example, reflected in these documents/other written material, our community meetings, our therapist selection and induction process). We’re not looking to change the fundamentals of how we do what we do – what we say here would be true 5 years ago or 10 years ago. It’s more about working with each other on how we communicate, and how well we all understand each other, and how able we are to meet/connect (rather than miss each other).

You have raised all kinds of interesting questions and come up with all kinds of interesting ideas in your feedback, and we are working on bringing more of that into being.  We were relieved and pleased that you overwhelmingly said:-

  • you know who to talk to, if you have a problem;
  • you feel you have plenty of choice about who to talk to (besides your supervisor, although mostly we find that people tend to choose to talk primarily to their own supervisor(s) and your comments also indicated this); and
  • you find this a supportive, open, trustworthy and non-threatening place to work (rather than feeling frozen, inhibited or unable to speak out).

This is vital. Because we do not rely on rules and formal structures, what makes our person-centred way of working work is we talk to each other about what is really going on!

So that is the invitation. Whatever you need to say, please DO say it. Talk to your supervisor(s), talk to another member of the supervision team, talk to Chris W or Susie H, talk to each other first and then to one of those people (with support if you want it). Do it however works for you – but do it!

Palace Gate Counselling Service Service

24 January 2014’

This entry was posted in Carl Rogers, core conditions, ethics, our service, person centred and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A different pathway for therapists too

  1. Pingback: The Conflict | Palace Gate Counselling Service

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